Commentary Magazine


Topic: Haaretz

The Nonviolent Victory That Wasn’t

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

The New York Times ran a paean this week to a new documentary, Budrus, that purports to show how 10 months of nonviolent protests in 2003-04 persuaded Israel to reroute its security fence near the eponymous West Bank village. The story has only two flaws: the protests weren’t nonviolent, and the victory was at least partly due to Israel’s own legal system. And those flaws reflect a problem far larger than the film itself.

Though the movie shows occasional stone-throwing, most of the protests look “utterly peaceful,” noted reporter Ethan Bronner. But even some of the protesters themselves told Bronner otherwise.

“It is obvious that the filmmaker was not there,” said one, Jonathan Pollak. “The movie represents what happened as more nonviolent that it really was.”

And Pollak is no Israeli flack He co-founded the Israeli group Anarchists Against the Wall, which regularly joins Palestinian protests against the fence; he’s been injured and arrested repeatedly during anti-fence demonstrations; and he even toured the U.S. with the film’s hero, Ayed Morrar, to fundraise for the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement.

Indeed, even the usually pro-Palestinian Haaretz admits that most anti-fence demonstrations involve “a great deal of stone throwing” — generally with slingshots, which are lethal weapons — and “many [Israeli] soldiers and Border Police are wounded.”

The other issue ignored by both the film and Bronner is the role of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Budrus protests coincided with hearings on what became a landmark decision ordering the fence rerouted to reduce harm to Palestinian villagers. The verdict was issued only in July 2004. But the government had already begun rerouting the fence in various locales during the previous six months, because the justices’ comments during the hearings made the likely outcome clear.

The film thus turned a highly complex situation (let’s not forget that the fence was built to begin with only to stop the murderous Palestinian terror of those years) into a simplistic tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

The same is true of almost every other movie about the conflict — and for good reason, as Israeli filmmaker Noa Ben Hagai acknowledged in a stunning interview with Haaretz last month.

After Ben Hagai’s documentary about her own family’s discovery of Palestinian relatives in the West Bank was shown at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival,

[i]nternational producers asked me what my next film was going to be, and hinted that they would be glad if it were about the occupation, but from an extreme direction, from a new angle showing how terrible the reality can be. It was clear that they wanted something very extreme and bloody about the Israeli reality, if possible something about apartheid, and to mix in the Holocaust, too, if possible. I understood that … if I want to succeed in the world, then I have to keep on dealing with political subjects.

In short, if you want money, critical acclaim, and festival screenings, the storyline has to be “good Palestinians versus bad Israelis,” regardless of the truth. And that means viewers should take all such films with a large grain of salt.

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How Anti-Israel Groups Undermine Their Own Credibility

Liberal American Jews are often appalled by allegations of Israeli “war crimes” against Palestinians — and equally appalled by Israelis’ apparent indifference to these allegations. What is wrong with their Israeli brethren, these well-meaning Jews wonder, that they seemingly countenance such heinous acts?

Haaretz’s woman in Ramallah, Amira Hass, unintentionally provides the answer in her citation today of the following testimony collected by Breaking the Silence, a group formed to allow ex-soldiers to “break their silence” about Israeli “war crimes”:

And there is another soldier who suddenly understood, during Operation Defensive Shield, that “the tank is a crazy source of fire. You’re moving around in (a populated area ) with all these refugee villages around and all these clumsy weapons, and you fire in a place like that. To fire with a cannon inside a neighborhood … I felt bad.

“Defensive Shield is a complicated and hysterical story … they constantly spoke in terms of war. It took me two or three months to understand … that I hadn’t returned from a war. I was in some campaign … that was worthless in many senses.

“And all the time there was that terminology of shoot in every direction, at anything that moves, and all the time the word war was repeated. … To this day, I go around with the feeling that someone from the outside orchestrated the atmosphere.”

Two ostensible facts about Defensive Shield, Israel’s April 2002 incursion into the West Bank, emerge from this testimony: soldiers opened fire indiscriminately, and the operation was militarily unjustifiable to begin with — downright “worthless.” Yet both are demonstrably false.

First, Palestinian allegations of an Israeli-perpetrated “massacre” in Jenin during the operation sparked intensive investigations. Yet even the UN — not an organization known for its pro-Israel bias — concluded that the death toll in Jenin was exactly 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers, while Human Rights Watch (another organization not known for pro-Israel bias) concluded that only 22 of those Palestinians were civilians.

Given the difficulty of fighting in a crowded urban environment where combatants and noncombatants are intermingled, and where combatants don’t even wear uniforms (making them harder to distinguish from civilians), this is an extraordinarily low civilian casualty rate, one no other Western army involved in urban warfare has matched. Thus, far from constituting indiscriminate fire, Defensive Shield exemplified the most discriminating fire imaginable.

Second, far from being “worthless,” this was one of the most successful operations in Israel’s history. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror — which peaked at 449 in the intifada’s second year (September 2001–September 2002), including 134 in March 2002 alone — fell by about 50 percent a year in each of the next several years. And the main reason was Defensive Shield, launched in response to that deadly March 2002.

Allegations are rarely so easily disprovable; most pit one person or group’s word against another, with no way to know who’s right. But when organizations like Breaking the Silence treat even such patently false allegations as credible indictments, most Israelis find it hard to give their other claims any credence.

Liberal American Jews are often appalled by allegations of Israeli “war crimes” against Palestinians — and equally appalled by Israelis’ apparent indifference to these allegations. What is wrong with their Israeli brethren, these well-meaning Jews wonder, that they seemingly countenance such heinous acts?

Haaretz’s woman in Ramallah, Amira Hass, unintentionally provides the answer in her citation today of the following testimony collected by Breaking the Silence, a group formed to allow ex-soldiers to “break their silence” about Israeli “war crimes”:

And there is another soldier who suddenly understood, during Operation Defensive Shield, that “the tank is a crazy source of fire. You’re moving around in (a populated area ) with all these refugee villages around and all these clumsy weapons, and you fire in a place like that. To fire with a cannon inside a neighborhood … I felt bad.

“Defensive Shield is a complicated and hysterical story … they constantly spoke in terms of war. It took me two or three months to understand … that I hadn’t returned from a war. I was in some campaign … that was worthless in many senses.

“And all the time there was that terminology of shoot in every direction, at anything that moves, and all the time the word war was repeated. … To this day, I go around with the feeling that someone from the outside orchestrated the atmosphere.”

Two ostensible facts about Defensive Shield, Israel’s April 2002 incursion into the West Bank, emerge from this testimony: soldiers opened fire indiscriminately, and the operation was militarily unjustifiable to begin with — downright “worthless.” Yet both are demonstrably false.

First, Palestinian allegations of an Israeli-perpetrated “massacre” in Jenin during the operation sparked intensive investigations. Yet even the UN — not an organization known for its pro-Israel bias — concluded that the death toll in Jenin was exactly 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers, while Human Rights Watch (another organization not known for pro-Israel bias) concluded that only 22 of those Palestinians were civilians.

Given the difficulty of fighting in a crowded urban environment where combatants and noncombatants are intermingled, and where combatants don’t even wear uniforms (making them harder to distinguish from civilians), this is an extraordinarily low civilian casualty rate, one no other Western army involved in urban warfare has matched. Thus, far from constituting indiscriminate fire, Defensive Shield exemplified the most discriminating fire imaginable.

Second, far from being “worthless,” this was one of the most successful operations in Israel’s history. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror — which peaked at 449 in the intifada’s second year (September 2001–September 2002), including 134 in March 2002 alone — fell by about 50 percent a year in each of the next several years. And the main reason was Defensive Shield, launched in response to that deadly March 2002.

Allegations are rarely so easily disprovable; most pit one person or group’s word against another, with no way to know who’s right. But when organizations like Breaking the Silence treat even such patently false allegations as credible indictments, most Israelis find it hard to give their other claims any credence.

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Reaction to J Street

It’s interesting to watch the left cope with the realization that not only have the J Streeters copiously lied, but that they are in league with Richard Goldstone — shepherding him around Capitol Hill and writing his defense.

The left-leaning Haaretz sounds mournful, albeit realistic:

These days, J Street, the leftist pro-Israel lobby, is trying to appear business as usual. Following their ad campaign in the newspapers showcasing their support of the peace process and urging leaders to make history, J Street met this week with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and with various congressional representatives, in hopes of tightening connections ahead of the November midterm elections.

But ever since the Washington Times exposed the discreet donations made by billionaire George Soros to the organization, the scandal surrounding J Street is only magnifying.

The reporter accurately details the series of lies and concludes:

J Street needs to make a clear decision — if they want to be truly inclusive, as they claim to be — they shouldn’t be afraid to be so, despite the price they may have to pay. By continuing their current modus operandi — trying to dodge controversy — they are actually creating more controversies and might lose credibility even among their left-wing supporters. If they want to become a unique voice, they should say: “We do not agree, but we listen to all voices — and not under the table.”

Not an unreasonable suggestion.

Over at Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein goes on a rant against Eli Lake, who broke the story. But in the end, he too concedes:

All this goes to my main problem with J Street: they’re being too smart by half in trying to hide their true progressive views under a bushel.  If you want to be a Democratic version of Aipac as J Street has been over the past year, then do so and don’t take money from Soros or aid Goldstone.  Make Colette Avital happy, play in the sandbox with the moribund Labor Party, etc.  But if you want to be a truly independent progressive Jewish group why attempt to hide from anyone what you’ve done in taking Soros’ money or helping Goldstone?  Why make common cause with an unreliable figure like Avital?

The problem, might be, those bushel-hidden views are not palatable to the vast majority of American Jews.

Then there is Ron Kampeas’s column in the JTA. Kampeas has invested much credibility writing about and sourcing from the J Street crowd (and they, in spinning him); so I wasn’t all that surprised that he chose to go after the reporters who uncovered J Street’s lies. But his defense of J Street runs from odd to outrageous.

He’s not moved by the audiotape revealing Colette Avital’s false denial of her admission that Goldstone got the J Street tour around the Capitol. He acknowledges that Ben-Ami now concedes that “J Street had suggested contacts to the organizations that all sides agree did facilitate Goldstone’s Hill meetings, the Open Society Institute and the New America Foundation,” but seems not to grasp that this contradicted other Ben-Ami’s statements. He’s still giving Ben-Ami the benefit of the doubt. (“Now, it is true that Jeremy could be lying — he misled everyone about Soros’s involvement, after all, and his accounts of what was said to the Times and what was not have shifted slightly — but that doesn’t mean anything at this stage.” It doesn’t?) And on he goes, denying that there is anything here to see, nothing at all. (Even Jeffrey Goldberg figured out that this is curtains for the J Street gang.)

An official at a pro-Israel organization is aghast:

I guess it’s not enough for Ron Kampeas to be lied to, and lied to and lied to again. Maybe in that fairy land lies pass for truth, but in Washington and in the real world, lies are lies. And J Street has lied about taking money from George Soros, they lied about being an organization paid for by Americans. In fact, J Street is a sham astroturf collection of email addresses paid for by George Soros and a unknown person in Hong Kong named Connie Esdicul who covered half of their budget in the 2008-2009 year, when they were the ”blocking back” for the White House policy beating up on Israel. I wonder what member of Congress will want to take their PAC money or keep signing their letters? Maybe only if Mort Halperin only if writes them, just like he did for Richard Goldstone when J Street called members of Congress to set up meetings for him so he could explain how Israel was guilty of war crimes.

And now they are lying again about their role in promoting the author of the Goldstone report — a anti-Israel document so vile that even the radical left group B’tselem condemned it. But J Street? No, they didn’t condemn it then, and they don’t now.

But here’s the outrageous part: Kampeas agrees with J Street that Goldstone got a raw deal. He’s incensed: “Why the hell shouldn’t Goldstone have met with the Congress members?” (Because he’s a vicious defamer of Israel and has presided over the multiple executions of blacks in South Africa?) He proclaims that “the original anti-Goldstone resolution that circulated was profoundly unfair to him.” Then the show stopper:

Here’s a postscript: I don’t think Goldstone is Uncle Evil any longer in Israel. His reputation morphed from Pompous Traitor to Wounded Grandpa after South African Zionists tried to muscle him out of his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.

This is ludicrous. There is no significant segment of Israeli society and not a single prominent Israeli politician who thinks Goldstone is anything but evil. Well, at least we know why Kampeas is so sympathetic to J Street — they both have a soft spot for the man who has, through deliberate misrepresentation, done more than any living soul to aid Israel’s delegitimizers.

It’s interesting to watch the left cope with the realization that not only have the J Streeters copiously lied, but that they are in league with Richard Goldstone — shepherding him around Capitol Hill and writing his defense.

The left-leaning Haaretz sounds mournful, albeit realistic:

These days, J Street, the leftist pro-Israel lobby, is trying to appear business as usual. Following their ad campaign in the newspapers showcasing their support of the peace process and urging leaders to make history, J Street met this week with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and with various congressional representatives, in hopes of tightening connections ahead of the November midterm elections.

But ever since the Washington Times exposed the discreet donations made by billionaire George Soros to the organization, the scandal surrounding J Street is only magnifying.

The reporter accurately details the series of lies and concludes:

J Street needs to make a clear decision — if they want to be truly inclusive, as they claim to be — they shouldn’t be afraid to be so, despite the price they may have to pay. By continuing their current modus operandi — trying to dodge controversy — they are actually creating more controversies and might lose credibility even among their left-wing supporters. If they want to become a unique voice, they should say: “We do not agree, but we listen to all voices — and not under the table.”

Not an unreasonable suggestion.

Over at Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein goes on a rant against Eli Lake, who broke the story. But in the end, he too concedes:

All this goes to my main problem with J Street: they’re being too smart by half in trying to hide their true progressive views under a bushel.  If you want to be a Democratic version of Aipac as J Street has been over the past year, then do so and don’t take money from Soros or aid Goldstone.  Make Colette Avital happy, play in the sandbox with the moribund Labor Party, etc.  But if you want to be a truly independent progressive Jewish group why attempt to hide from anyone what you’ve done in taking Soros’ money or helping Goldstone?  Why make common cause with an unreliable figure like Avital?

The problem, might be, those bushel-hidden views are not palatable to the vast majority of American Jews.

Then there is Ron Kampeas’s column in the JTA. Kampeas has invested much credibility writing about and sourcing from the J Street crowd (and they, in spinning him); so I wasn’t all that surprised that he chose to go after the reporters who uncovered J Street’s lies. But his defense of J Street runs from odd to outrageous.

He’s not moved by the audiotape revealing Colette Avital’s false denial of her admission that Goldstone got the J Street tour around the Capitol. He acknowledges that Ben-Ami now concedes that “J Street had suggested contacts to the organizations that all sides agree did facilitate Goldstone’s Hill meetings, the Open Society Institute and the New America Foundation,” but seems not to grasp that this contradicted other Ben-Ami’s statements. He’s still giving Ben-Ami the benefit of the doubt. (“Now, it is true that Jeremy could be lying — he misled everyone about Soros’s involvement, after all, and his accounts of what was said to the Times and what was not have shifted slightly — but that doesn’t mean anything at this stage.” It doesn’t?) And on he goes, denying that there is anything here to see, nothing at all. (Even Jeffrey Goldberg figured out that this is curtains for the J Street gang.)

An official at a pro-Israel organization is aghast:

I guess it’s not enough for Ron Kampeas to be lied to, and lied to and lied to again. Maybe in that fairy land lies pass for truth, but in Washington and in the real world, lies are lies. And J Street has lied about taking money from George Soros, they lied about being an organization paid for by Americans. In fact, J Street is a sham astroturf collection of email addresses paid for by George Soros and a unknown person in Hong Kong named Connie Esdicul who covered half of their budget in the 2008-2009 year, when they were the ”blocking back” for the White House policy beating up on Israel. I wonder what member of Congress will want to take their PAC money or keep signing their letters? Maybe only if Mort Halperin only if writes them, just like he did for Richard Goldstone when J Street called members of Congress to set up meetings for him so he could explain how Israel was guilty of war crimes.

And now they are lying again about their role in promoting the author of the Goldstone report — a anti-Israel document so vile that even the radical left group B’tselem condemned it. But J Street? No, they didn’t condemn it then, and they don’t now.

But here’s the outrageous part: Kampeas agrees with J Street that Goldstone got a raw deal. He’s incensed: “Why the hell shouldn’t Goldstone have met with the Congress members?” (Because he’s a vicious defamer of Israel and has presided over the multiple executions of blacks in South Africa?) He proclaims that “the original anti-Goldstone resolution that circulated was profoundly unfair to him.” Then the show stopper:

Here’s a postscript: I don’t think Goldstone is Uncle Evil any longer in Israel. His reputation morphed from Pompous Traitor to Wounded Grandpa after South African Zionists tried to muscle him out of his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.

This is ludicrous. There is no significant segment of Israeli society and not a single prominent Israeli politician who thinks Goldstone is anything but evil. Well, at least we know why Kampeas is so sympathetic to J Street — they both have a soft spot for the man who has, through deliberate misrepresentation, done more than any living soul to aid Israel’s delegitimizers.

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Obama’s Repudiation of Promises to Israel Comes Back to Haunt Him

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

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Delay Would Make Israeli-Palestinian Deal More Likely, Not Less

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

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Washington’s West Bank Pyromania

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stunning admission last week that has garnered far too little attention. After a de rigueur assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo is unsustainable,” she added, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be sustained for a year, or a decade, or two or three.”

But if so, why the rush to solve the conflict now, when all signs indicate that a deal is unachievable and another round of failed talks could greatly worsen the situation?

One could simply say she’s wrong; the status quo is intolerable for suffering Palestinians. But the facts are on her side.

First, the territories are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The World Bank reported last week that the West Bank economy grew 9 percent in the first half of this year, while Gaza (you remember — that giant Israeli prison locked in hopeless poverty and misery?) grew an incredible 16 percent. For the West Bank, this represents a second year of strong growth; last year’s was 8.5 percent.

The World Bank hastened to declare that we should never mind the facts; growth under occupation is unsustainable. And growth in Gaza (which isn’t occupied) might well be: it was artificially boosted by reconstruction after last year’s war and the abrupt easing of Israel’s blockade in May. But the West Bank’s two-year surge shows that economic reforms like those instituted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, coupled with a sharp drop in terror that has let Israel greatly ease its restrictions on Palestinian movement, make long-term growth quite feasible.

Second, West Bankers have evidently learned a lesson from the second intifada: support for terror there is very low, making a resurgence that would upset the current calm unlikely. Indeed, during a visit this month to the Balata refugee camp, once “a hotbed of extremism,” a Haaretz reporter “was hard-pressed to find any passersby who were willing to express support for it.” As resident Imad Hassan explained, “What good did this [terror] do us?”

By contrast, the current calm is doing West Bankers a lot of good, and they’re clearly savoring it. As Haaretz reported following a Ramadan visit to Ramallah last month:

The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was “the occupation” — unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

In short, West Bankers, too, consider the status quo tolerable; they’re more concerned with business than “the occupation.”

One thing, however, could yet disrupt this status quo: as several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted, negotiations that collapse amid mutual recriminations have triggered violent explosions in the past, and could well do so again.

So to try to achieve an agreement that overwhelming majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians believe is currently unachievable, the Obama administration is risking the violent implosion of a status quo that it admits is sustainable for decades. That isn’t “smart diplomacy”; it’s the irresponsibility of a pyromaniac near a barrel of gunpowder.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stunning admission last week that has garnered far too little attention. After a de rigueur assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo is unsustainable,” she added, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be sustained for a year, or a decade, or two or three.”

But if so, why the rush to solve the conflict now, when all signs indicate that a deal is unachievable and another round of failed talks could greatly worsen the situation?

One could simply say she’s wrong; the status quo is intolerable for suffering Palestinians. But the facts are on her side.

First, the territories are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The World Bank reported last week that the West Bank economy grew 9 percent in the first half of this year, while Gaza (you remember — that giant Israeli prison locked in hopeless poverty and misery?) grew an incredible 16 percent. For the West Bank, this represents a second year of strong growth; last year’s was 8.5 percent.

The World Bank hastened to declare that we should never mind the facts; growth under occupation is unsustainable. And growth in Gaza (which isn’t occupied) might well be: it was artificially boosted by reconstruction after last year’s war and the abrupt easing of Israel’s blockade in May. But the West Bank’s two-year surge shows that economic reforms like those instituted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, coupled with a sharp drop in terror that has let Israel greatly ease its restrictions on Palestinian movement, make long-term growth quite feasible.

Second, West Bankers have evidently learned a lesson from the second intifada: support for terror there is very low, making a resurgence that would upset the current calm unlikely. Indeed, during a visit this month to the Balata refugee camp, once “a hotbed of extremism,” a Haaretz reporter “was hard-pressed to find any passersby who were willing to express support for it.” As resident Imad Hassan explained, “What good did this [terror] do us?”

By contrast, the current calm is doing West Bankers a lot of good, and they’re clearly savoring it. As Haaretz reported following a Ramadan visit to Ramallah last month:

The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was “the occupation” — unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

In short, West Bankers, too, consider the status quo tolerable; they’re more concerned with business than “the occupation.”

One thing, however, could yet disrupt this status quo: as several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted, negotiations that collapse amid mutual recriminations have triggered violent explosions in the past, and could well do so again.

So to try to achieve an agreement that overwhelming majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians believe is currently unachievable, the Obama administration is risking the violent implosion of a status quo that it admits is sustainable for decades. That isn’t “smart diplomacy”; it’s the irresponsibility of a pyromaniac near a barrel of gunpowder.

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Palestinian Authority Heading for the Exits

The Palestinian Authority is itching to get out the talks. The settlement freeze is the excuse, while the reason is its inability to make and enforce a peace deal. This report tells us that the PA is pre-empting a potential compromise:

The agreement beginning to take shape on the settlement construction freeze is based on an “unspoken understanding” that security authorities will not sign new building permits, but the government will not issue a formal resolution extending the freeze. Furthermore, a review found that the building moratorium is due to expire on September 30, not September 26, as previously thought.

A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Haaretz on Tuesday that from the PA’s perspective, what mattered was not Israel’s declarations but the moratorium’s implementation on the ground.

In sum, nothing other than the impossible — a formal extension of the freeze — will do. So presto, the PA “gets out” of the direct peace talks they avoided for so long. But just in case, they have a new impossible position: “The same source told Haaretz that the PA intends to make clear in the direct negotiations with Israel that it will not agree to complete demilitarization of the territories, as this was a condition no sovereign state could accept.” As you can see, the “moment of opportunity” Obama waxed lyrically about is simply another in the unending tales of Palestinian rejectionism.

That the Obami invested so much time and credibility in this fruitless effort is a sign of both hubris (their predecessors weren’t “smart” enough diplomats, you see) and naivete. As with so much else in this administration, it is the conjunction of bad ideas and inept execution. In this context, the “peace process” has already claimed five lives. All so Obama would not have what is left of his credibility pulverized. In the end, one fears, more innocents will be hurt or killed, and the blow to Obama’s ego will have only been delayed.

The Palestinian Authority is itching to get out the talks. The settlement freeze is the excuse, while the reason is its inability to make and enforce a peace deal. This report tells us that the PA is pre-empting a potential compromise:

The agreement beginning to take shape on the settlement construction freeze is based on an “unspoken understanding” that security authorities will not sign new building permits, but the government will not issue a formal resolution extending the freeze. Furthermore, a review found that the building moratorium is due to expire on September 30, not September 26, as previously thought.

A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Haaretz on Tuesday that from the PA’s perspective, what mattered was not Israel’s declarations but the moratorium’s implementation on the ground.

In sum, nothing other than the impossible — a formal extension of the freeze — will do. So presto, the PA “gets out” of the direct peace talks they avoided for so long. But just in case, they have a new impossible position: “The same source told Haaretz that the PA intends to make clear in the direct negotiations with Israel that it will not agree to complete demilitarization of the territories, as this was a condition no sovereign state could accept.” As you can see, the “moment of opportunity” Obama waxed lyrically about is simply another in the unending tales of Palestinian rejectionism.

That the Obami invested so much time and credibility in this fruitless effort is a sign of both hubris (their predecessors weren’t “smart” enough diplomats, you see) and naivete. As with so much else in this administration, it is the conjunction of bad ideas and inept execution. In this context, the “peace process” has already claimed five lives. All so Obama would not have what is left of his credibility pulverized. In the end, one fears, more innocents will be hurt or killed, and the blow to Obama’s ego will have only been delayed.

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What Washington’s Lame Response to Terror Says About the Peace Talks

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

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The F-35 and the Israel-Obama Relationship

Commenting on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision last week to buy 20 American-made F-35 fighter jets, Elliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily said it “illuminates Israel’s continuing, vital, and enduring — albeit dependent — relationship with the United States.” That is undoubtedly true: Washington has been Israel’s principal arms supplier for over four decades, and those arms are crucial for the country’s defense.

Ironically, however, the purchase also illuminates the nadir to which the relationship has fallen under the current administration. Barack Obama’s aides have tried to divert attention from their boss’s efforts to put “daylight” between America and Israel by insisting that on the all-important issue of security, “President Obama has taken what was already a strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship, and broadened and deepened it across the board,” as Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council told the Anti-Defamation League in May.

But in reality, Washington has attached unprecedented restrictions to the F-35 sale — restrictions so severe that Israel’s defense establishment agonized for months over whether to sign the deal, and ultimately opted to buy only 20 planes instead of the 75 the Israel Air Force originally sought.

First, as Haaretz reported last month, the U.S. refused to supply a test aircraft as part of the deal for the first time in 40 years. From the Phantom in 1969 through the F-16I six years ago, every previous American sale of fighters to Israel has included an experimental aircraft that Israel can use to test new systems or weapons it is considering installing in order to upgrade the planes or adapt them to particular missions. Effectively, the paper said, this refusal means “upgrades will not be implemented during the plane’s service in the IAF.”

Second, Washington initially refused to let any Israeli systems be installed in the plane, and finally reluctantly agreed to what various Israeli reports described as “minor changes” or “a few” systems (though holding out the carrot that more might be allowed if Israel ultimately commissions more planes). This, too, is unprecedented. Previous deals have given Israel great latitude to have its own systems installed on American-made aircraft, and have also allowed other countries to install Israeli systems — with the result that “between 10 percent and 15 percent of every new F-16 made in America, for instance, consists of Israeli systems.”

The restrictions so incensed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that he has appealed the purchase to the cabinet. His ministry says they would deal “a major blow to Israel’s defense industry” and particularly “hurt development of new Israeli missile systems.” On an issue as militarily important as purchasing new fighters, Steinitz has no chance of prevailing against Barak. But for a senior minister to publicly challenge such a deal is itself unusual.

It’s a testament to the depth of Israel’s support both in Congress and among the American people that even a hostile president only dares impair the security relationship at the margins, where he can hope it won’t be noticed. But precisely because the F-35 restrictions will fly below most Americans’ radars, they’re a telling indication of where Obama’s heart really lies.

Commenting on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision last week to buy 20 American-made F-35 fighter jets, Elliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily said it “illuminates Israel’s continuing, vital, and enduring — albeit dependent — relationship with the United States.” That is undoubtedly true: Washington has been Israel’s principal arms supplier for over four decades, and those arms are crucial for the country’s defense.

Ironically, however, the purchase also illuminates the nadir to which the relationship has fallen under the current administration. Barack Obama’s aides have tried to divert attention from their boss’s efforts to put “daylight” between America and Israel by insisting that on the all-important issue of security, “President Obama has taken what was already a strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship, and broadened and deepened it across the board,” as Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council told the Anti-Defamation League in May.

But in reality, Washington has attached unprecedented restrictions to the F-35 sale — restrictions so severe that Israel’s defense establishment agonized for months over whether to sign the deal, and ultimately opted to buy only 20 planes instead of the 75 the Israel Air Force originally sought.

First, as Haaretz reported last month, the U.S. refused to supply a test aircraft as part of the deal for the first time in 40 years. From the Phantom in 1969 through the F-16I six years ago, every previous American sale of fighters to Israel has included an experimental aircraft that Israel can use to test new systems or weapons it is considering installing in order to upgrade the planes or adapt them to particular missions. Effectively, the paper said, this refusal means “upgrades will not be implemented during the plane’s service in the IAF.”

Second, Washington initially refused to let any Israeli systems be installed in the plane, and finally reluctantly agreed to what various Israeli reports described as “minor changes” or “a few” systems (though holding out the carrot that more might be allowed if Israel ultimately commissions more planes). This, too, is unprecedented. Previous deals have given Israel great latitude to have its own systems installed on American-made aircraft, and have also allowed other countries to install Israeli systems — with the result that “between 10 percent and 15 percent of every new F-16 made in America, for instance, consists of Israeli systems.”

The restrictions so incensed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that he has appealed the purchase to the cabinet. His ministry says they would deal “a major blow to Israel’s defense industry” and particularly “hurt development of new Israeli missile systems.” On an issue as militarily important as purchasing new fighters, Steinitz has no chance of prevailing against Barak. But for a senior minister to publicly challenge such a deal is itself unusual.

It’s a testament to the depth of Israel’s support both in Congress and among the American people that even a hostile president only dares impair the security relationship at the margins, where he can hope it won’t be noticed. But precisely because the F-35 restrictions will fly below most Americans’ radars, they’re a telling indication of where Obama’s heart really lies.

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The Blackmailer’s Paradox

With direct negotiations about to begin, Israeli negotiators should enroll in a crash course with the country’s Nobel laureate in economics, Prof. Robert Aumann. Aumann, whose specialty is game theory, offered valuable advice in an interview with Haaretz last month, in which he described a game-theory concept known as “the blackmailer’s paradox.”

“Someone offers Reuven and Shimon NIS 1,000 together, if they can manage to agree on the question of how to split the money between them. Reuven says to Shimon: ‘Great, let’s split it half and half.’ Shimon says: ‘No. I am not leaving here with less than NIS 900. You will get 100. Take it or leave it.’ Reuven says to him: ‘Be rational. What is the difference between us? Why should you get more?’ Shimon says: ‘Rational or not, do what you want. Either I leave here with 900 or with nothing. You decide.’

“Reuven thinks and says: ‘Okay, NIS 100 is money nevertheless. What am I going to do with this irrational mule? I myself am rational and I will take the 100. I need to advance my goal of getting as much money as possible, and my choice is between zero and 100. One hundred is still something.’

“What is the paradox? That the irrational person gets more than the rational person.”

The problem with Israel’s negotiations with both the Palestinians and Syria, Aumann said, is that the Arabs have successfully played the role of the blackmailer: they have convinced both themselves and Israel that their demands are sacred and must be met fully, whereas “we don’t manage to convince ourselves that anything is sacred.” And because Israel can’t convince itself, “there isn’t anything that we can convince the other side is sacred to us, that we’re willing to ‘be killed for it, rather than transgress.’”

Anyone familiar with the history of Israeli-Palestinian talks knows they have been one long string of unilateral Israeli concessions: in 17 years, Palestinian positions on borders, Jerusalem, and refugees haven’t budged an inch.

But Israel’s behavior has another negative consequence that Aumann didn’t mention: it results in international pressure for concessions being applied almost exclusively to Israel.

After all, the world just wants an agreement; it doesn’t much care what the deal looks like or what its long-term impact on Israel will be. And since the Palestinians have convinced world leaders that their demands are sacred, whereas Israel has convinced them that its demands can always be conceded for the sake of “peace,” these leaders very rationally conclude that an agreement will be obtained more easily by pressuring Israel than by pressuring the Palestinians and that Israel’s “demands” can be safely ignored.

If Israel is ever to change this pattern, its leaders must stop their incessant talk about the “painful concessions” a deal will require of Israel and start talking instead about the “painful concessions” it will require of the Palestinians. Israel must state its own demands loudly, clearly, and continuously, and make it crystal clear that there will be no deal unless they are met.

With direct negotiations about to begin, Israeli negotiators should enroll in a crash course with the country’s Nobel laureate in economics, Prof. Robert Aumann. Aumann, whose specialty is game theory, offered valuable advice in an interview with Haaretz last month, in which he described a game-theory concept known as “the blackmailer’s paradox.”

“Someone offers Reuven and Shimon NIS 1,000 together, if they can manage to agree on the question of how to split the money between them. Reuven says to Shimon: ‘Great, let’s split it half and half.’ Shimon says: ‘No. I am not leaving here with less than NIS 900. You will get 100. Take it or leave it.’ Reuven says to him: ‘Be rational. What is the difference between us? Why should you get more?’ Shimon says: ‘Rational or not, do what you want. Either I leave here with 900 or with nothing. You decide.’

“Reuven thinks and says: ‘Okay, NIS 100 is money nevertheless. What am I going to do with this irrational mule? I myself am rational and I will take the 100. I need to advance my goal of getting as much money as possible, and my choice is between zero and 100. One hundred is still something.’

“What is the paradox? That the irrational person gets more than the rational person.”

The problem with Israel’s negotiations with both the Palestinians and Syria, Aumann said, is that the Arabs have successfully played the role of the blackmailer: they have convinced both themselves and Israel that their demands are sacred and must be met fully, whereas “we don’t manage to convince ourselves that anything is sacred.” And because Israel can’t convince itself, “there isn’t anything that we can convince the other side is sacred to us, that we’re willing to ‘be killed for it, rather than transgress.’”

Anyone familiar with the history of Israeli-Palestinian talks knows they have been one long string of unilateral Israeli concessions: in 17 years, Palestinian positions on borders, Jerusalem, and refugees haven’t budged an inch.

But Israel’s behavior has another negative consequence that Aumann didn’t mention: it results in international pressure for concessions being applied almost exclusively to Israel.

After all, the world just wants an agreement; it doesn’t much care what the deal looks like or what its long-term impact on Israel will be. And since the Palestinians have convinced world leaders that their demands are sacred, whereas Israel has convinced them that its demands can always be conceded for the sake of “peace,” these leaders very rationally conclude that an agreement will be obtained more easily by pressuring Israel than by pressuring the Palestinians and that Israel’s “demands” can be safely ignored.

If Israel is ever to change this pattern, its leaders must stop their incessant talk about the “painful concessions” a deal will require of Israel and start talking instead about the “painful concessions” it will require of the Palestinians. Israel must state its own demands loudly, clearly, and continuously, and make it crystal clear that there will be no deal unless they are met.

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Israel’s Gaza Policy Boosts Hamas’s Popularity? Doesn’t Look Like It

Radical leftists worldwide enthusiastically support Hamas, which has the cardinal virtue of being virulently anti-Israel. It’s a pity they never asked Gaza Strip residents, who actually have to live under Hamas rule. But one of Israel’s leading pro-Palestinian journalists, Amira Hass of Haaretz, gave these residents a voice this week:

“I wish these pictures reached leftists abroad,” my friend said to herself Tuesday as she watched Hamas police use rifle butts and clubs to beat her friends — activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Although my friend has never been a fan of the Fatah government in the West Bank, she is outraged by the romanticization of Hamas rule by foreign activists.

Ironically, the PFLP agrees with Hamas about most key issues: “opposition to the Oslo Accords, glorification of the armed struggle and opposition to direct negotiations with Israel.” The protest wasn’t over anything political, but over the chronic power outages — more than eight hours a day, every day, for months — caused by the Hamas and Fatah governments’ ongoing spat over who should pay for Gaza’s power plant’s fuel after the European Union stopped footing the bill last November. Since both sides refuse to pay, the amount of fuel entering the Strip has steadily declined; in the first week of August, it amounted to only 23 percent of what is needed to run the plant at full capacity.

Hamas initially tried to prevent the protest — though under Palestinian law, demonstrations don’t need a license. When that failed, “hundreds of police with clubs and rifles” dispersed the demonstrators “very violently.” Many demonstrators were wounded and needed medical attention; others “were detained for some time.”

Most likely, overseas leftists won’t see these pictures, since Hamas kept photojournalists from taking any. But Hass’s word pictures are vivid enough.

The punch line, however, is her own commentary. Hass cannot be suspected of pro-Israel sympathies; she lived for years in both Gaza and Ramallah, and her tireless media crusade for the Palestinian cause has won her numerous journalism awards overseas. But after noting that Hamas routinely suppresses unauthorized gatherings — even a party organized by the Khan Yunis refugee committee for students who passed their matriculation exams — she concluded:

[T]he shamelessly brutal suppression of the [PFLP] protest shows just how scared the Gaza government is. … If Hamas felt it still had public support, it wouldn’t need to suppress any activity that it didn’t initiate or finds unflattering.

Of course, it’s not just radical leftists who won’t like that conclusion; it’s the entire Western foreign-policy and media establishment — which unanimously asserts that Hamas’s popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Granted, the Palestinians’ own polling data refute that idea, as I noted here in June, but why let facts interfere with a good anti-Israel theory?

Which is why Hass’s unarguable point — that popular governments don’t need to suppress demonstrations — will doubtless also be universally ignored. And that’s an even greater pity, because a little more attention to facts would greatly improve Western policy in the Middle East.

Radical leftists worldwide enthusiastically support Hamas, which has the cardinal virtue of being virulently anti-Israel. It’s a pity they never asked Gaza Strip residents, who actually have to live under Hamas rule. But one of Israel’s leading pro-Palestinian journalists, Amira Hass of Haaretz, gave these residents a voice this week:

“I wish these pictures reached leftists abroad,” my friend said to herself Tuesday as she watched Hamas police use rifle butts and clubs to beat her friends — activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Although my friend has never been a fan of the Fatah government in the West Bank, she is outraged by the romanticization of Hamas rule by foreign activists.

Ironically, the PFLP agrees with Hamas about most key issues: “opposition to the Oslo Accords, glorification of the armed struggle and opposition to direct negotiations with Israel.” The protest wasn’t over anything political, but over the chronic power outages — more than eight hours a day, every day, for months — caused by the Hamas and Fatah governments’ ongoing spat over who should pay for Gaza’s power plant’s fuel after the European Union stopped footing the bill last November. Since both sides refuse to pay, the amount of fuel entering the Strip has steadily declined; in the first week of August, it amounted to only 23 percent of what is needed to run the plant at full capacity.

Hamas initially tried to prevent the protest — though under Palestinian law, demonstrations don’t need a license. When that failed, “hundreds of police with clubs and rifles” dispersed the demonstrators “very violently.” Many demonstrators were wounded and needed medical attention; others “were detained for some time.”

Most likely, overseas leftists won’t see these pictures, since Hamas kept photojournalists from taking any. But Hass’s word pictures are vivid enough.

The punch line, however, is her own commentary. Hass cannot be suspected of pro-Israel sympathies; she lived for years in both Gaza and Ramallah, and her tireless media crusade for the Palestinian cause has won her numerous journalism awards overseas. But after noting that Hamas routinely suppresses unauthorized gatherings — even a party organized by the Khan Yunis refugee committee for students who passed their matriculation exams — she concluded:

[T]he shamelessly brutal suppression of the [PFLP] protest shows just how scared the Gaza government is. … If Hamas felt it still had public support, it wouldn’t need to suppress any activity that it didn’t initiate or finds unflattering.

Of course, it’s not just radical leftists who won’t like that conclusion; it’s the entire Western foreign-policy and media establishment — which unanimously asserts that Hamas’s popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Granted, the Palestinians’ own polling data refute that idea, as I noted here in June, but why let facts interfere with a good anti-Israel theory?

Which is why Hass’s unarguable point — that popular governments don’t need to suppress demonstrations — will doubtless also be universally ignored. And that’s an even greater pity, because a little more attention to facts would greatly improve Western policy in the Middle East.

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Israel Needs to Face Facts About Turkey

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

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Susan Rice Is Doing Something at the UN: Targeting Israel

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

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Rival Palestinian Governments Abusing Their Own People — Again

Israel is constantly accused of turning Gaza into “one big prison” — and never mind the fact that Egypt, which also borders Gaza, sharply restricts the number of Palestinians allowed to transit its territory, too. But a stunning report by Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who identifies so profoundly with the Palestinian cause that she spent years living in both Gaza and Ramallah, reveals another factor: even Gazans who do receive permission to leave, whether via Egypt or Israel, sometimes can’t do so, because the two feuding Palestinian governments have denied them passports.

Sometimes, Gaza’s Hamas-led government confiscates existing passports because the holders belong to Fatah. Sometimes, the West Bank’s Fatah-led government (which owns the blank passport books) refuses to issue passports to applicants affiliated with Hamas. And sometimes, the Ramallah government even denies passports to Fatah members, because they allegedly have ties to Hamas.

Thus Fiza Za’anin, a Hamas-affiliated midwife who won a UN award for her work, received Israel’s permission both to attend a course in East Jerusalem and to transit its territory en route to the prize ceremony in the U.S. But she couldn’t do either, because the Ramallah government denied her a passport. Needless to say, international human rights groups haven’t trumpeted her case.

Hass’s report recalls the Fatah-Hamas dispute that shut down a major Gazan power plant last month, because both parties insisted the other pay for the fuel.

At full capacity, the plant would increase Gaza’s power supply by 50 percent over and above what Israel supplies. Instead, it was shut down completely, leaving parts of Gaza with only eight hours a day of power — all because Hamas and Fatah would rather “argue over a few million dollars a month” than improve Gazans’ lives, as Haaretz Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff correctly observed. But “because Israel is not involved in this affair,” he noted, “the United Nations has not held an emergency session to discuss the matter, the (non-Palestinian) Human Rights organizations will overlook it,” and it “will probably not receive much coverage by the international media.”

And then there’s that new mall in Gaza. As the Jerusalem Post’s Liat Collins perceptively noted, a two-story, 9,700-square-foot shopping mall must have required huge amounts of cement and metal — all presumably smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, since Israel wasn’t allowing building materials across its border. And Hamas controls the smuggling tunnels.

But according to Hamas, thousands of Gazans whose houses were destroyed in its war with Israel 18 months ago remain homeless. So what kind of government would allocate scarce construction material to a mall instead of homes for its people? Clearly, one that doesn’t care about their suffering — and indeed, actually prefers perpetuating it, to fan anti-Israel sentiment. And the world, naturally, plays along.

If Hamas and Fatah both spent less time and effort on anti-Israel incitement and more on improving their people’s lives, Palestinians would be much better off. But that would require them to actually care more about their people’s welfare than they do about undermining Israel. And despite the world’s willful refusal to believe it, neither faction ever has.

Israel is constantly accused of turning Gaza into “one big prison” — and never mind the fact that Egypt, which also borders Gaza, sharply restricts the number of Palestinians allowed to transit its territory, too. But a stunning report by Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who identifies so profoundly with the Palestinian cause that she spent years living in both Gaza and Ramallah, reveals another factor: even Gazans who do receive permission to leave, whether via Egypt or Israel, sometimes can’t do so, because the two feuding Palestinian governments have denied them passports.

Sometimes, Gaza’s Hamas-led government confiscates existing passports because the holders belong to Fatah. Sometimes, the West Bank’s Fatah-led government (which owns the blank passport books) refuses to issue passports to applicants affiliated with Hamas. And sometimes, the Ramallah government even denies passports to Fatah members, because they allegedly have ties to Hamas.

Thus Fiza Za’anin, a Hamas-affiliated midwife who won a UN award for her work, received Israel’s permission both to attend a course in East Jerusalem and to transit its territory en route to the prize ceremony in the U.S. But she couldn’t do either, because the Ramallah government denied her a passport. Needless to say, international human rights groups haven’t trumpeted her case.

Hass’s report recalls the Fatah-Hamas dispute that shut down a major Gazan power plant last month, because both parties insisted the other pay for the fuel.

At full capacity, the plant would increase Gaza’s power supply by 50 percent over and above what Israel supplies. Instead, it was shut down completely, leaving parts of Gaza with only eight hours a day of power — all because Hamas and Fatah would rather “argue over a few million dollars a month” than improve Gazans’ lives, as Haaretz Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff correctly observed. But “because Israel is not involved in this affair,” he noted, “the United Nations has not held an emergency session to discuss the matter, the (non-Palestinian) Human Rights organizations will overlook it,” and it “will probably not receive much coverage by the international media.”

And then there’s that new mall in Gaza. As the Jerusalem Post’s Liat Collins perceptively noted, a two-story, 9,700-square-foot shopping mall must have required huge amounts of cement and metal — all presumably smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, since Israel wasn’t allowing building materials across its border. And Hamas controls the smuggling tunnels.

But according to Hamas, thousands of Gazans whose houses were destroyed in its war with Israel 18 months ago remain homeless. So what kind of government would allocate scarce construction material to a mall instead of homes for its people? Clearly, one that doesn’t care about their suffering — and indeed, actually prefers perpetuating it, to fan anti-Israel sentiment. And the world, naturally, plays along.

If Hamas and Fatah both spent less time and effort on anti-Israel incitement and more on improving their people’s lives, Palestinians would be much better off. But that would require them to actually care more about their people’s welfare than they do about undermining Israel. And despite the world’s willful refusal to believe it, neither faction ever has.

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Rewriting the Rules of International Diplomacy

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

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Better for the Patient to Suffer than to Be Treated by Israelis?

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

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Haaretz Disses J Street

Sounds like a joke: J Street has become so transparently partisan and so sycophantic when it comes to Obama’s Middle East policy that even the left-leaning Haaretz runs a scathing review of the leftist group. But it’s no joke:

J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, ran its first television commercial last week in the United States. Watching the ad online (it can be viewed via a link on my own organization’s website, www.rethinkme.org) confirmed my worst suspicions about this new organization, which likes to portray itself as the “real voice” of the mainstream American Jewish community. …

Photos of Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus also appear on-screen, accompanied by the words, “Say ‘yes’ to American leadership. Join the community of ‘yes.’” So “American leadership” in the Middle East is personified by the president, the secretary of state and the new commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. …

This commercial is a classic Democratic campaign ad, pitting the evil Republicans (“the chorus of ‘no’”) against the good guys, the Democrats (“the community of ‘yes’”). For the purposes of the ad, the general has been promoted to the rank of honorary Democrat, despite his reputed Republican voter registration.

As the columnist Michael Lame (founder of a nonpartisan group, Re-Think The Middle East) notes, there are lots of other leftist groups, but J Street is in a class by itself:

J Street is specifically an Obama support group, playing the part of a cheering section for the president to such an extent that the organization could be renamed “Jews for Obama.” It has consistently supported his approach to the Middle East even when most commentators who support a two-state solution have criticized his administration’s tactics and timing. Through the last year and a half of White House bumbling and fumbling over the settlement freeze, J Street never once criticized Obama, Mitchell, Clinton or the entire strategy of talking tough to Israel, coupled with toothless threats and inept performance.

It is not merely that, unlike AIPAC, “J Street will not defend Israel unconditionally” or even that “J Street will defend Obama unconditionally.” It is that J Street continually criticizes Israel on the same grounds as Israel’s international enemies do and often parrots their rhetoric, specifically the assertion that Israel is not equipped or entitled as other democratic states to manage and — if need be — investigate its own national-security operations. Indeed, J Street takes the position that it, and not the elected government of Israel, knows best what is “good” for Israel on everything — from settlements to the flotilla incident.

It is ironic that the left went bonkers when ECI appeared on the scene, accusing the pro-Israel group of “politicizing” Israel policy. That’s rich, given what J Street does:

The main problem here is that J Street tries to turn peace in the Middle East into a proprietary issue of the Democrats, while it vilifies the Republicans as the enemies of peace. … So what’s wrong with J Street? It mixes up its views on the issues with domestic party politics.

Precisely so.

Sounds like a joke: J Street has become so transparently partisan and so sycophantic when it comes to Obama’s Middle East policy that even the left-leaning Haaretz runs a scathing review of the leftist group. But it’s no joke:

J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, ran its first television commercial last week in the United States. Watching the ad online (it can be viewed via a link on my own organization’s website, www.rethinkme.org) confirmed my worst suspicions about this new organization, which likes to portray itself as the “real voice” of the mainstream American Jewish community. …

Photos of Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus also appear on-screen, accompanied by the words, “Say ‘yes’ to American leadership. Join the community of ‘yes.’” So “American leadership” in the Middle East is personified by the president, the secretary of state and the new commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. …

This commercial is a classic Democratic campaign ad, pitting the evil Republicans (“the chorus of ‘no’”) against the good guys, the Democrats (“the community of ‘yes’”). For the purposes of the ad, the general has been promoted to the rank of honorary Democrat, despite his reputed Republican voter registration.

As the columnist Michael Lame (founder of a nonpartisan group, Re-Think The Middle East) notes, there are lots of other leftist groups, but J Street is in a class by itself:

J Street is specifically an Obama support group, playing the part of a cheering section for the president to such an extent that the organization could be renamed “Jews for Obama.” It has consistently supported his approach to the Middle East even when most commentators who support a two-state solution have criticized his administration’s tactics and timing. Through the last year and a half of White House bumbling and fumbling over the settlement freeze, J Street never once criticized Obama, Mitchell, Clinton or the entire strategy of talking tough to Israel, coupled with toothless threats and inept performance.

It is not merely that, unlike AIPAC, “J Street will not defend Israel unconditionally” or even that “J Street will defend Obama unconditionally.” It is that J Street continually criticizes Israel on the same grounds as Israel’s international enemies do and often parrots their rhetoric, specifically the assertion that Israel is not equipped or entitled as other democratic states to manage and — if need be — investigate its own national-security operations. Indeed, J Street takes the position that it, and not the elected government of Israel, knows best what is “good” for Israel on everything — from settlements to the flotilla incident.

It is ironic that the left went bonkers when ECI appeared on the scene, accusing the pro-Israel group of “politicizing” Israel policy. That’s rich, given what J Street does:

The main problem here is that J Street tries to turn peace in the Middle East into a proprietary issue of the Democrats, while it vilifies the Republicans as the enemies of peace. … So what’s wrong with J Street? It mixes up its views on the issues with domestic party politics.

Precisely so.

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The Trouble with International Forces

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

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RE: Israelis Are Racists, and Besides, Some of My Best Political Hacks Are Jews

Jen, I wanted to weigh in on the story in Haaretz as well, the one that reports:

During the interview Wednesday, when confronted with the anxiety that some Israelis feel toward him, Obama said that “some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion.”

“Ironically, I’ve got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel. My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the U.S. Senate,” Obama said.

“I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there’s the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy, and the truth of the matter is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West,” Obama went on to say.

These statements combine some of Obama’s worst traits: arrogance, condescension, and detachment from reality.

Obama regards himself much like a teacher who oversees a classroom of sometimes unruly, sometimes dim-witted children. His magnificence is sometimes hidden from them. And so it is left for America’s philosopher-king to explain — in simply, easy-to-understand words — why things are the way they are.

In this instance, the anxiety Israel feels toward for Obama is not rooted in his unwise policies or his disgraceful past treatment of the Israeli prime minister. No, the cause is Obama’s middle name.

In addition, Israelis are a bit too dull to see the miracles that have resulted from Barack the Great’s outreach to the “Muslim world.”

The truth is that whatever Obama’s outreach to the Muslim community is designed to do, it has — as Jen points out — been a complete failure. Israel’s wariness toward Obama is rooted in his pursuit of an agenda that is as harmful to Israel. But all of this is beyond the realm of comprehension for Obama. For him, it all comes down to his middle name. We have rarely, if ever, seen self-delusion on a scale quite like this.

Jen, I wanted to weigh in on the story in Haaretz as well, the one that reports:

During the interview Wednesday, when confronted with the anxiety that some Israelis feel toward him, Obama said that “some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion.”

“Ironically, I’ve got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel. My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the U.S. Senate,” Obama said.

“I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there’s the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy, and the truth of the matter is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West,” Obama went on to say.

These statements combine some of Obama’s worst traits: arrogance, condescension, and detachment from reality.

Obama regards himself much like a teacher who oversees a classroom of sometimes unruly, sometimes dim-witted children. His magnificence is sometimes hidden from them. And so it is left for America’s philosopher-king to explain — in simply, easy-to-understand words — why things are the way they are.

In this instance, the anxiety Israel feels toward for Obama is not rooted in his unwise policies or his disgraceful past treatment of the Israeli prime minister. No, the cause is Obama’s middle name.

In addition, Israelis are a bit too dull to see the miracles that have resulted from Barack the Great’s outreach to the “Muslim world.”

The truth is that whatever Obama’s outreach to the Muslim community is designed to do, it has — as Jen points out — been a complete failure. Israel’s wariness toward Obama is rooted in his pursuit of an agenda that is as harmful to Israel. But all of this is beyond the realm of comprehension for Obama. For him, it all comes down to his middle name. We have rarely, if ever, seen self-delusion on a scale quite like this.

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It’s the Security Arrangements, Stupid

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

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